Is Red Meat Harmful?

The Red Meat Debate: Use Some Common Sense

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For the past decade or so red and processed meats (beef in particular) has been associated with a higher risk of heart disease and certain cancers.

The red meat debate continues as we wake up  this morning to the news that consumption of red and processed meats are of little risk to our health.

Back in 2015, an article appeared to agree with the current assessment about red and processed meat and in addition tells us how to deal with the disturbing reports about red and processed meat and heart disease and cancer.

So what can we really believe? The following article first appeared in 2015 and seems to me to take a common sense approach to the debate that never ceases.

Bottom Line – Life is a risk. Eat responsibly. As Michael Pollan says: “Eat Food, Not too much, Mostly Plants.”

If you are a true carnivore, we could add “eat meat in moderation.” Meat has been a traditional part of the American diet since our food culture began. On the other hand, we really don’t need meat at every meal as some think. How about trying some plant sources of protein now and then.? Try a Meatless Monday. Might be fun????

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Grass-fed Beef: Is It Safer?

by foodworksblog 15 Comments

A typical feedlot

Grass-fed beef comes from cattle that eat only grass and other foraged foods. Usually, beef and dairy cows eat a diet of processed grain, such as corn.  There has been an increased interest in grass-fed or pastured beef because of its health claims when compared to cattle from commercial feedlots.  Grass-fed beef may have some heart-health benefits that other types of beef don’t have. When compared with other types of beef, grass-fed beef may have:

  • Less total fat
  • Higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids
  • Higher levels of another type of fat (conjugated linoleic acid) that’s thought to reduce heart disease and cancer risks
  • Lower levels of a dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria

Due to the almost continuous news of recalls of beef contaminated with a dangerous strain of E. coli 0157:H7 or often just called O157 bacteria, grass-fed beef purveyors have often promoted the idea of safer beef than conventionally-grown or grain-fed beef.  What does the science say?

Work conducted at Cornell University by Russell and Diez-Gonzalez in the late 1990s showed that cattle that were fed hay had far fewer E. coli concentrations than when they were fed a standard feedlot diet based on grain. (Microbes Infect 2, No. 1 (2000): 45-53.)  However, earlier studies did not look at the levels of the dangerous strain 0157 apart from other strains.

The researchers hypothesized that when grain is fed to cattle, their digestive tracts become more acidic.  Over time, the E. coli in their intestines become resistant to this acid environment.  When we ingest them, a high percentage will survive the high acid content of our digestive juices and increase the risk of E. coli food poisoning.  Theoretically few E. coli from grass-fed cattle will survive because they have not become acid-resistant.

Since this original work, other researchers have explored the link between cattle feed and E. coli with more attention paid to the presence of 0157:H7.  Some have confirmed the work by Russell and Diez-Gonzalez but the majority has disputed the finding.  For example, in 2003, at the University of Idaho, a study found no difference in the levels of E. coli 0157:H7 in grass-fed and grain-fed.  In both cases, acid resistance was high.  Other studies have come to the same conclusion.

Grass-fed growers point out that even if there is not much evidence that diet can affect the number and acidity of E. coli in the intestines of cattle, grass-fed beef may be safer in the long run than feedlot beef.  Simply, grass-fed cattle are cleaner at time of slaughter.

Feedlot animals often stand all day in dirt and manure and careless and dangerous practices in the slaughterhouses increases the risk of manure contamination of the meat.  For a graphic depiction of slaughterhouse practices, read “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser. A cleaner animal upon entering the facility will lessen this possibility.  In the magazine Meat Marketing and Technology, the associate editor stated: “pasture-raised animals are much easier to clean because they come form smaller herds raised in relatively cleaner pastures.”

From the www.onlygrassfed.com webpage:

“It (grass-fed) is usually processed in a small local meat processing operation by skilled butchers who are careful to avoid fecal contamination of the beef.  When you buy grass fed ground beef from a reputable local farmer, you can be assured it is not “frankenbeef.”  In fact, the ground beef probably came from one cow.  Rest assured, it was processed from quality, uncontaminated ingredients.”

In 2009, there were 4,643 cases of Shiga-toxin producing 0157:H7 E. coli illnesses; In 2010, the number rose to 4, 757.  Fortunately there were few deaths, but this strain can cause a condition known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) often with lasting kidney damage for a lifetime.

Choosing whether to buy grass-fed or grain-fed beef is a personal decision based on taste, price, ethical and environmental issues.  Some grass-fed beef purveyors will say that it is OK to consume the beef raw as in steak tartar, for example based on the myth of less E. coli contamination.  If you choose grass-fed beef it is important to realize that you should practice all the safe-handling techniques recommended for grain-fed beef based on the current scientific evidence.

Related article

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The Best Advice on Eating Red Meat

The Red Meat Debate: Use Some Common Sense

 

For the past decade or so red and processed meats (beef in particular) has been associated with a higher risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Two NYT articles are presented here to that addresses this issue and helps to clarify how to deal with this ongoing issue.

The red meat debate continues as we wake up  this morning to the news that consumption of red and processed meats are of little risk to our health.

CLICK HERE.

November 5, 2015

Back in 2015, an article appeared to agree with the current assessment about red and processed meat and in addition tells us how to deal with the disturbing reports about red and processed meat and heart disease and cancer.

So what can we really believe? The following article first appeared in 2015 and seems to me to take a common sense approach to the debate that never ceases. Hint: Life is a risk.

CLICK HERE.

There’s A Supplement for That!!

By Sally J. Feltner, M.S.,Ph.D

In 1994, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act that loosened the regulation requirements that ultimately favored the manufacturers and led to an explosion of the dietary supplement market.
As a result, the FDA now has minimal regulation over testing prior to marketing concerning the safety or effectiveness of any supplement. Any testing is the responsibility of the manufacturer so it becomes difficult to “prove” any safety issues that may be present.

Since 1994, the FDA has taken action against many products because they contain prescription drugs or contaminants. Most of the products under scrutiny were labeled for use as sexual enhancement, body building, and weight loss.

Dietary Supplement Labeling:

Fortunately, what goes on the label is regulated. Structure/function claims can advertise  how the product affects normal body structures (such as “helps maintain strong bones”) or functions. Claims such as “improves circulation”, “prevents wrinkles” “supports the immune system”, and “helps maintain mental health” can be used, whereas “prevents heart disease”, “cures depression” cannot be.

If a function claim is made, the labeling has this warning: “This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” So who needs them?

Take the Case of Robert
Robert is 70 years old and has always been healthy. Recently, he experienced a few episodes of forgetfulness but thought nothing of it and attributed it to old age. Then he began feeling tired and having tingling in his hands and feet, difficulty walking, and diarrhea. He finally made a doctor’s appointment.

His blood test revealed he had a vitamin B12 deficiency and after a diet history, the doctor noticed he ate very little meat or dairy.  Due to his age, the doctor explained the deficiency could be caused by a condition common in older adults that reduces the ability to absorb  the vitamin and suggested he start to take a daily supplement containing the vitamin. He also gave him an injection of vitamin B12 in case the vitamin was not being adequately absorbed by Robert.

Who may benefit from vitamin and mineral supplements? 

  • People with a diagnosed vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies
  • Newborns (vitamin K)
  • Vegans (vitamin B12 and D)
  • Pregnant women (folate and iron)
  • Elderly persons on limited diets (multivitamin/minerals)
  • People on restricted diets (multivitamins/minerals)
  • People at risk for osteoporosis (calcium, vitamin D)
  • People with alcoholism (multivitamin/minerals)
  • Elderly people diagnosed with vitamin B12, vitamin D and/or folate deficit

Guidelines for Using Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
Purchase products with USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia or the CL symbol (Consumer Laboratories) – tested for purity, ingredients, and dose.
Choose supplements containing 100% of the Daily Value or less.
Take supplements with meals.
Tell your health care provider about the supplements you take. Some may affect your prescription medications.

Nonvitamin NonMineral Supplements

Fatty Acids: Omega-3’s, fish oils, DHA and EPA, flaxseeds

Claims: To reduce heart disease and enhance brain function. This claim has recently been disputed and needs further research as to its effectiveness.

Omega-3s compete with omega-6s (vegetable oils like corn oil, soybean oil, safflower seed oil) for conversion to eicosanoids that help regulate blood clotting, inflammation, and blood pressure in the body.
Problem: We have far more 6’s in the food supply than we have 3’s. They work best at a ratio of 4:1 but instead we have 20:1 in favor of 6’s.

Flaxseeds contain alpha-linolenic fatty acid that can be be converted to EPA and DHA in the body; but this is not very efficient in humans and decreases as we age. EPA and DHA are the active forms which can lower inflammation and blood clotting factors. That is why we should eat EPA and DHA directly from fish instead of relying on their conversion in the body from alpha-linolenic acid.

Bottom Line:

  • Found to not be very effective in reducing heart attacks in supplement form.
    Best to get them eating fatty fish 2-3 times a week. (salmon, trout, tuna)
    Possible problems with mercury and contaminants in fish (farmed and wild-caught
    Fish oil supplements not recommended for anyone taking blood thinner medications.

Enzyme Supplements

Enzymes are proteins that are  broken down in the small intestine to amino acids; thus, the original enzyme and its functions are not intact – so little if any effect can be gained from taking them in their enzyme form.

One exception: Some are made to work in the digestive tract before they are broken down. For example, lactase breaks down lactose and is helpful to people who are lactose intolerant.

So, if these are not specially coated to protect them as they are in cystic fibrosis, most enzyme supplements are totally useless to the body.  Healthy people make their own digestive enzymes in the pancreas and small intestine.

Hormone Supplements
Many marketed to athletes to replace the desirable steroid hormones that enhance muscle growth and strength and can be dangerous, like growth hormones. Again, without putting them to the test, there is no way to measure their safety or effectiveness.

Melatonin:
Not a protein, but a steroid hormone made in the pineal gland in the brain.
Marketed as a sleep aid and help with jet lag.
Claimed to improve sleep duration and quality
Somewhat effective
Dose is important – start low.

Coenzyme Supplements:
Coenzymes are enzyme helpers, such as coenzyme Q10.
Needed as an electron carrier in the final steps of energy (ATP) production
Are often claimed to be needed when statins are taken. .
This can cause side effects of statins of muscle pain and weakness.
Some studies show benefits of reduced pain – but not all

Herbal Remedies
As with all supplements, they are only as good if they are effective and safe (some are not). Human studies with herbal remedies have helped identify which herbals and supplements lack beneficial effects or have adverse effects. Some can pose a health risk. Results of most studies are mixed.

Guidelines for Herbal Use

  • Don’t use for serious, self-diagnosed conditions.
    Let your doctor know what herbals you take.
    Clear the use of herbal remedies with your doctor if you take prescription meds.
    Do not use if attempting or are pregnant.
    Don’t mix herbal remedies.
    If you are allergic to certain plants, make sure the same is not true of the chosen herbal supplement.
    Buy herbs with the USP label or have the CL label.

Functional Foods
Generally taken to mean food or food ingredients that may provide a health benefit beyond the effects of traditional nutrients it contains

Examples of functional foods with proposed health benefits include:

  • Stanol and sterol fortified margarines, psyllium fiber, whole oat products – reduced blood levels of LDL cholesterol
  • Omega-3 acids – reduce blood triglycerides – must be in high doses
  • Cranberry juice extracts – decreased urinary tract infections
  • Folic-Acid fortified breads and cereals – decreased neural tube defects
  • Probiotics – decreased risk of infections, lactose intolerance, diarrhea

DISCUSSION:

According to Marion Nestle, author of Unsavory Truths, and Food Politics – Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, emerita, at New York University, Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell:

“I wrote extensively about the paucity of evidence for the value of dietary supplements for anyone who eats enough of a reasonably varied diet. The supplement industry funds many studies that demonstrate health benefits from taking one supplement or another, but studies funded independently usually do not – and sometimes suggest that taking nutrients in pill form can be harmful.”

Don’t be fooled by the claims made by the purveyors of dietary supplements – In my opinion, most are more than likely no better than the remedies peddled by our ancestors, i.e., the snake oil salesmen. Lately some supplements have become very expensive (my opinion) and the consumer has the right to know whether to spend hard earned money on these products or not. To put it simply – Buyer Beware,

 

Vitamin D: An Anti Inflammatory Vitamin?

Vitamin D Foods

Study: Patients Low In Vitamin D Twice As Likely To Develop Severe COVID-19 Symptoms

Here are some facts about vitamin D.  It is important to remember that just one study is only an observation but can be used to form a hypothesis for further research.  Actually vitamin D is now thought of as a hormone that is involved with helping to build strong bones. Also as a hormone, it plays key  roles in combating chronic inflammation. It does this by entering cells and turning genes that produce Inflammatory substances “off” and those that produce substances that reduce inflammation “on.” In our days of living with the pandemic, we need to pay attention to the dietary factors that may help curtail the effects of the coronovirus or COVID-19.

Inadequate vitamin D status is common.

How to Improve your vitamin D status:

  • Substitute a cup of skim milk for a sweetened beverage at one meal or snack a day.
  • Eat salmon once a week at dinner.
  • Select a vitamin D-fortified orange juice.
  • Buy or select and consume vitamin D-fortified breakfast cereals.
  • Exercise or walk in sunshine for 10 minutes three times a week. Best to wear shorts or short sleeves for better exposure (weather dependent, of course). Vitamin D is manufactured from a form of cholesterol in skin cells upon exposure to ultra-violet rays from the sun. You cannot get too much vitamin D from sun exposure.
  • Take a vitamin D supplement (400-600 IU) daily until you are able to get enough vitamin D through dietary means. NOTE: Please get your doctor’s permission to take vitamin D supplements since it is classified as a fat soluble vitamin and can be toxic at high doses (4,000 IU/ is the upper Tolerable Level) or 100 ug/day.  Check labels carefully. Source: Nutrition Now, 7th Edition, Judith E. Brown

CLICK HERE.

How Safe are Salad Bars?

I may be paranoid but salad bars have never been appealing to me. The lettuce alone sits there sometimes for long periods of time and the temperature is almost impossible to maintain to be constant at less than 40 degrees. F. Anything above that for cold foods is called the danger zone for microbe growth. That zone is so important in practicing food safety principles and your health.

Note: The coronovirus itself has never been implicated in any food safety issue to my knowledge. However, until it is determined what its modes of transmission are beyond any doubt, food safety is a good idea for general healthy principles anyway.

CLICK HERE.

How much sugar?

We know in times like these, our sugar intake is the last concern on our minds. In fact, we may be eating more of it due  to stress and discontent of our current environment.   But when this horrible pandemic is over, we have to try to get back to improving our diets as much as possible to make up for lost time. Here is a good article about sugar intake that is in reality reasonable and informative in general about the glycemic index, fructose, and artificial sweeteners and processed foods.

CLICK HERE.

The Rise in Comfort Foods

Interesting observation on what type of foods we choose when in a state of crisis – makes common sense. The focus on healthy eating for now may have to take a backseat for awhile due to the restrictions from the coronvirus invasion.

Keep safe – to keep your immune system “healthy” get plenty of sleep, eat as well as you can, stay hydrated and most of all stay away from crowds. Wash hands often and after bringing in merchandise from outside, e.g. grocery bags, disinfect your kitchen counters, handles, and knobs on appliances with antiseptic wipes, bleach solutions or disinfectant sprays. It all can help.

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What Do Microbiologists Eat? Or Not Eat?

During my teaching days, I taught a course in infectious disease for several years. As part of our lab sessions, we  did some sampling to test  some common areas in the cafeteria as well as some local food samples from a few local restaurants (salads) and other produce from the supermarket.

As a result in our lab, we found E.coli growing in the ice tea spouts in the cafeteria and growing in the alfalfa sprouts at the local supermarket. The presence of these types of bacteria suggest  fecal contamination – need I say more?  Raw sprout contamination is not new. Raw sprouts are not recommended for pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems, or the  elderly. Keep in mind that the species of E. coli can range from “friendly bacteria” to dangerous pathogens (E. coli 157:H7.)

CLICK HERE.

Eating Leafy Greens Safely

EATING Leafy Greens Safely from Consumer Report, March 2020

Many nutritionists declare that eating leafy greens are one of the hallmarks of eating a healthy diet.  This is true, but due to various environmental events this advice has been questioned.  The main culprit in this story is romaine lettuce that has too many times been implicated with outbreaks of food borne illnesses caused by a bacterium called E. coli.

Take the case of Cheryl in 1992.

Her mother, Susan knew something was wrong when she found her 6-year old daughter, Cheryl doubled up in pain and moaning. Her husband, Tom took her to the hospital after they realized Cheryl was also suffering from severe bloody diarrhea.  Susan and Tom spent the rest of the day wondering what was going on. Appendicitis was mentioned as a possibility.  By the morning, Cheryl was transferred to the ICU and given powerful painkillers. The next afternoon more tests  showed that Cheryl did not have appendicitis. Now what? New tubes were connected to Cheryl’s body, but her condition only worsened as the day wore on.

Cheryl continued to get worse which resulted in a heart attack and she was eventually put on life support; the damage to her heart and brain and kidneys were irreversible. The time had come to remove her ventilator. Susan sat there holding her six-year old daughter who five days previous had stayed home from school with a stomachache. Now she was gone.

The cause still remained a medical mystery until one physician had listed as a possible cause hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a rare disease leading to anemia and kidney failure. He had read that research identified E. coli as the primary cause of HUS. Most E. coli strains are harmless to humans, but one strain E. coli 0157:H7 can be deadly since  this bacterium manufactures a toxin that attacks red blood cells.  Stool cultures from Cheryl confirmed the presence of the E.coli O157:H7.

Soon other children had been infected and presented to emergency rooms over the Northwest U.S. “The headlines read: At least 45 people in Western Washington, most of them children, have fallen ill from an outbreak of a bacterial illness commonly linked to under-cooked beef, the state Department of Health officials said yesterday” The bacterium was identified as E. coli 0157:H7 and identified the source was hamburger meat served at a Jack in the Box restaurant that resulted in the death of four children and over seven hundred others who were gravely ill.  These potentially lethal outbreaks have forever changed America’s relationship with food. Previously, most consumers thought of food poisoning as a short-lived nuisance, if they thought of it at all. Now it has become more of a threat to the public and the produce industry in addition to the meat-industry.

Outbreaks Continue:  Consumer Reports, A Safety Guide to Leafy Greens, March 2020.

“According to the CDC, from 2006 and 2019 romaine and other leafy greens, such as bags of spinach and spring mix, have been involved in at least 46 multistate E. coli outbreaks. Some research shows that greens cause more cases of food poisoning than any other food, including beef.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 73,000 Americans become infected with this strain from all sources each year and about 60 people die as a result.

“Many victims of these outbreaks have had their lives seriously disrupted. Many have needed kidney transplants and hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses because they chose to eat a presumably healthy food,” says Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer in Seattle who negotiated settlements for many victims.

For every reported case, there are many, many more cases that are not reported, says the CDC. Something has gone wrong with the processing practices we now employ and can occur during any of the steps required to grow, harvest, and package salad greens. Salad greens in the U.S. are primarily grown in two main areas: Salinas Valley, California and Yuma, Arizona, depending on the season.

However, leafy greens, especially romaine lettuce have consistently been found to be the culprit in a great majority of cases from all causes. Sales of romaine have plummeted from sales of $563 million in 2017 to $465 million presently. Still, growers are trying to figure out at what stage of the plant’s growth, a potentially deadly bacteria finds its way into and onto lettuce leaves. As bacteria are killed in products that are consumed after cooking, salads are usually eaten raw. In raw foods, this final “kill” step of cooking simply does not exist making it more difficult to contain any outbreaks. Even more simply, consumer demand for salad greens has increased significantly. Romaine became the trendy lettuce and popular for salads, burritos, wraps. Even most mixed greens bags contain some romaine.

How Greens Become Contaminated

Growing the Seeds

Bacteria such as E. coli are found in animal feces from cattle and sheep and the leaves of the growing plants can take up the microbes into their roots and thus the leaves.  Many of these lettuce farms are unfortunately found close to animal feedlots and the runoff from the feedlot waste ends up into the water used to irrigate the growing crops. It also may be carried by the wind from feedlots onto the adjacent growing plants. Wild animals or birds can deposit bacteria onto the fields. One major outbreak was attributed to the presence of wild boar contaminating the fields.

Harvesting the Fields

Machinery that helps to harvest may carry bacteria onto the fields.  Workers may not practice proper hand washing when harvesting crops (this is hard to maintain in the field setting. When plant leaves are cut during harvesting, the ends provide a reservoir of nutrients for the bacteria to thrive on and bacteria to enter the leaves.

Processing Plants

For bagged greens, plants from many sources are mixed together. If there is even one contaminated leaf in the mix, the rest will soon become contaminated as well. Equipment is not sanitized properly, and workers do not practice adequate hand washing procedures. Greens are washed in a sanitizing solution that may be recycled.

Triple-washed Greens

Most consumers feel reassured when buying bagged greens that state on the label, “Triple-washed, Ready to Eat. This creates a false sense of security since most bacteria are almost impossible to remove. It only takes 10 microscopic bacterial cells of E. coli, for example, to be considered an infectious dose. Therefore, this process may cut bacterial contamination, but it does not guarantee all the bacteria are “killed.”

Fifty-six percent of Americans rinse their lettuce before eating it, but mere water does little to remove harmful bacteria. Bagged lettuce contains greens from many farms and the leaves have all been cut. ” According to the results from a 2006 spinach outbreak, the tainted greens were eventually traced to one small section of just one small section of just one growers’ field.”

Prevention

Prevention is a complicated problem. More regulations are needed, but growers say they have already made most of the changes that are known to improve food safety.  “There’s no such thing as zero risk” according to Channah Rock, Ph.D., a researcher.  People need to be alerted to outbreaks and recalls more quickly to stop the contaminated food from reaching the market. In my opinion, feedlots should not be allowed to operate so close to produce fields – and stricter water testing is needed. As with all regulations, delays are inevitable. For example, stricter rules were implemented to take place in 2018. Now they have been pushed out to at least 2022.  Delays like this are unacceptable when consumers’ lives are involved.

The Safest Ways to Eat Salad

Even though there are problems, in my opinion, consumers should know the facts of the hazards and make their own decisions as to whether to eat raw salad greens or not. 25% of Americans say they eat lettuce less often now than before. I personally avoid raw salads but find this unfortunate due to their high nutrient density and recommendations to eat more fruits and vegetables. Here Is what you can do until the industry can make greens less risky.

  • Cook sturdier greens until wilted: Use spinach, kale, collards, Swiss chard, bok choy
  • Consider buying whole head lettuce, not bagged. The heads are less processed, cut, and easier to wash before eating. Their inner leaves are more protected and are less likely to meet with sources of contamination.
  • Keep packaged lettuce cold and eat it soon. Bacteria grow more quickly at room temperatures. Watch the expiration dates. Do not use damaged or bruised leaves.
  • Look for hydroponic or green-house grown greens. These are more protected against animal droppings in soil or water. Cleanliness depends on the water source and hand hygiene of the workers.
  • Soak greens in white vinegar for 10 minutes, then rinse. This will only reduce bacteria levels, not kill all bacteria. Forget salad rinses that only will clean off dirt or chemicals. They do not kill bacteria.
  • Stay informed. You can follow recalls at FDAfood and USDAFoodSafety. On either sites, you can sign up for email alerts.